Audrey Marie Hilley
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Audrey Marie Hilley (June 4, 1933 - February 26, 1987) was an American murderer. Her life and spree are the subjects of the 1991 telefilm Wife, Mother, Murderer. The movie starred Judith Light in the title role, with Whip Hubley and David Ogden Stiers.
Early Life and First Crimes
Audrey Marie Frazier was born on June 4, 1933 in Blue Mountain, Alabama to Lucille (née Meads) and Huey Frazier. She married Frank Hilley on May 8, 1951.
In May 1975 Frank Hilley visited his doctor complaining of nausea and tenderness in his abdomen. He was diagnosed with a viral stomachache. The condition persisted and he was admitted to a hospital for tests that indicated liver malfunction. Physicians then diagnosed infectious hepatitis. He died early in the morning of May 25, 1975.
An autopsy was performed with Audrey Hilley's permission. It revealed hepatitis, swelling of the kidneys and lungs, bilateral pneumonia, and inflammation of the stomach. Because the symptoms closely resembled those of hepatitis, no tests for poison were conducted. The cause of death was listed as infectious hepatitis.
Frank Hilley had maintained a moderate life insurance policy that his widow redeemed for $31,140. Slightly over three years later, she took out a $25,000 life insurance policy on her daughter, Carol. A $25,000 accidental death rider took effect in August 1978.
Within a few months, Carol began to experience trouble with nausea and was admitted to the emergency room several times. A year after insuring her daughter, Hilley gave her daughter an injection that she said would alleviate the nausea. However, the symptoms did not disappear, and eventually worsened. Carol began to experience numbness in her extremities and was admitted to the hospital for tests.
Unable to diagnose any disease, Carol's physician brought in a psychiatrist because he feared the symptoms might be psychosomatic. While she was undergoing psychiatric testing at Birmingham's Carraway Methodist Hospital, Carol received two more injections from her mother, who warned her that no one was to know about the shots. Audrey explained that the shots were given to her by a friend who was a registered nurse.
A month after Carol was admitted to the hospital, her physician said she was suffering from malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies. He added that he suspected heavy metal poisoning was to blame for the symptoms.
That afternoon, Hilley had Carol discharged from that hospital. The next day she was admitted to the University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham. Coincidentally, she was arrested for passing bad checks — they were written to the insurance company that insured Carol’s life, causing that policy to lapse.
The University hospital physicians concentrated their investigation on the possibility of heavy metal poisoning, noting that Carol’s hands and feet were numb, she had nerve palsy causing foot drop, and she had lost most of her deep tendon reflexes.
Tests conducted on samples of Carol’s hair revealed that it had about 50 times the normal arsenic level in human hair. Her condition was then officially attributed to arsenic poisoning. Forensic tests on Carol’s hair conducted October 3, 1979, by the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences revealed arsenic levels ranging from over 100 times the normal level close to the scalp to zero times the normal level at the end of the hair shaft. This indicated that Carol had been given increasingly larger doses of arsenic over a period of four to eight months.
That same day, Frank Hilley’s body was exhumed for testing. The analysis revealed abnormally high levels of arsenic, ranging from 10 times the normal level in hair samples to 100 times the normal level in toenail samples. As a result of these tests, Dr. Joseph Embry of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences concluded that the cause of death was acute arsenic poisoning, and that Frank Hilley suffered from chronic arsenic poisoning, meaning that he had been given arsenic for months prior to his death.
Audrey Hilley was still incarcerated on her bad check charges when she was arrested on October 9, 1979, for the attempted murder of her daughter. The Anniston, Alabama police found another vial in her purse that was in their possession and subsequent testing revealed the presence of arsenic. Two weeks later, Frank Hilley’s sister found a jar of Cowley’s New Improved Rat & Mouse Poison, which contains between 1.4 and 1.5 percent arsenic.
On November 9, 1979, Audrey Hilley was released on bond and registered at a local motel under the name Emily Stephens. She disappeared between the 9th and the 18th of November. A note indicating that she “might have been kidnapped” was left behind. A missing persons report was filed, and Audrey was listed as a fugitive.
On November 19, there was a break-in at the home of her aunt. A car, some women’s clothing and an overnight bag were missing from the home. Investigators found a note in the house reading, “Do not call police. We will burn you out if you do. We found what we wanted and will not bother you again.”
On January 11, 1980, she was indicted in absentia for her husband's murder. Subsequently, investigators found that both her mother and her mother-in-law had significant, but not fatal, traces of arsenic in their systems when they died.
Although police and the FBI launched a massive manhunt, Hilley remained a fugitive for a little more than three years.
New names, new lives
She first travelled to Florida, where she met a man named John Greenleaf Homan III. She was using the name Robbi Hannon. They lived together for more than a year before she married Homan on May 29, 1981 and took his last name. The couple moved to New Hampshire. She frequently talked about her imaginary twin sister, "Teri", who supposedly lived in Texas.
Late in the summer of 1982, she left New Hampshire, telling her husband that she needed to attend to family business and to see some doctors about an illness. During this time she travelled to Texas and Florida, using the alias Teri Martin.
During the trip, using the alias Teri Martin, she called John Homan and informed him that Robbi Homan had died in Texas but there was no need for him to come to Texas because the body had been donated to medical science.
On November 12 or 13, after changing her hair color and losing weight, she returned to New Hampshire and met John Homan, posing as Teri Martin, his “deceased” wife’s sister.
An obituary for Robbi Homan appeared in a New Hampshire newspaper, but aroused suspicion when police were unable to verify any of the information it contained. A New Hampshire state police detective surmised that the woman living as Teri Martin was, in fact, Robbi Homan and had staged her death. That hunch paid off and shortly after police brought “Teri Martin” in for questioning, she confessed to being Audrey Marie Hilley. She was returned to Alabama to face trial.
She was quickly convicted and sentenced to life in prison for her husband’s murder and 20 years for attempting to kill her daughter.
Incarceration and death
She began serving her sentence in 1983 and was a quiet, model prisoner. This good behavior earned her several one-day passes from the prison, and she always arrived back on time.
In February 1987, however, Hilley escaped after she was given a three-day pass to visit her husband, John Homan, who had moved to Anniston to be near his wife. They spent a day at an Anniston motel and when Homan left for a few hours, she disappeared, leaving behind a note for Homan asking his forgiveness. Her escape prompted an inquiry into the prison system’s furlough policy.
This time, she did not stay missing very long. Four days after she vanished, Anniston police responding to a call about a suspicious person, went to a home and found her. She apparently had been crawling around in the woods, drenched by four days of frequent rain and numb from temperatures dropping to the low 30s.
She was taken to a local hospital and underwent emergency treatment for hypothermia. While at the hospital she suffered a heart failure and died.
- "Woman Found Guilty in Family Killing, Poisoning," The Washington Post June 9, 1983
- Review Of Inmate Release Policies After Prisoner Escapes, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 24, 1987
- "Death of 'Black Widow' as mysterious as her life," United Press International, April 26, 1987
- "Last Chapter Of Black Widow Saga: Muddy, Cold, Dying Near Birthplace," The Associated Press, February 27, 1987
- "'Black Widow' spins a new web," United Press International, February 26, 1987
- Husband-Killer Dies Of Exposure After Escape; 'Black Widow' Caught In Her Own Web," Los Angeles Times, February 27, 1987
- The Great Escape Artist from The Malefactor's Register
- Book, "Black Widow: The True Story of the Hilley Poisonings" by R. Robin McDonald
- Book, "Poisoned Blood" by Philip Ginsburg
- Marie Hilley: Inscrutable Black Widow from Court TV's Crime Library
- The Double Life, Prison Escape, and Death of Murderess Audrey Marie Hilley by Kim Cantrell
- Poisoned Blood: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer and Her Life of Deception, Sexual Cunning, and Murder! by Philip Ginsburg at True Crime Book Reviews. Includes updates, current as of March 2011.